“Iraq needs aid now, or it will be without Christians,” said Fr. Luis Montes, a missionary priest has been serving in the Middle East and the Holy Land for more than 20 years. His current mission is a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, that houses 120,000 people. Fr. Montes has also visited Christians who have decided to return to their cities liberated from ISIS, where only the foundations of their houses are left standing, marked with the Arabic letter “nun,” which stands for  “Nazarene,” or Christian.

A native of Argentina and member of the  Institute of the Incarnate Word religious order, Fr. Montes was invited by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Chile to raise awareness about the current situation of Christians in formerly-ISIS occupied areas of Iraq.  

In an interview with ACI Prensa, Fr. Montes explained that Christians displaced by the war are returning to their destroyed hometowns because they have “the grace of God that allows them to endure martyrdom.” “God gives courage to those who are the weakest. This is something purely from God, not from themselves. In face of persecution, God gives them grace. He never gives us a mission he doesn't give us the strength for. God gives them the grace to endure the worst pain and torture and to be able to follow him,” he said.

“There are things that help them, for example, their very beautiful devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the queen of martyrs, she teaches them to be martyrs.” “Everything was taken away from the refugees,” so lacking material goods, they just “simplify their lives,” the missionary priest explained. “Life is simple. They love God because he is the giver of their material needs. They love the Blessed Virgin because she is the Mother that God has given us.”

“That is the wisdom that comes from the Cross. They know their crosses and whoever joins himself to the Cross has that wisdom and draws on it and God grants him peace, which is the closest thing to happiness here on earth,” he added. “When you visit them” the priest continued, “ you see suffering people but they have an inner peace. Despite everything they have suffered, they never deny their God. The people thank God every day. They tell him about their hardships, they weep and then they finish saying, 'Allah karim' which means 'God is generous,'” he said.

“This people has suffered so much but, they are people tested by suffering. They hold fast to their faith because their situation is simpler than what you can see from the outside. They are well formed in their faith, so for them, reconstructing their lives is the easier thing to do.” “Starting their lives over brings them a great deal of joy and consolation, knowing that they can go back to their cities, to their former lives. They have been living as refugees. Compared to that, this is now a paradise!” Fr. Montes emphasized.

While basic services are slowly returning to the cities destroyed by ISIS, the families that come camp over the foundations of the homes that were burned or destroyed by the Islamic extremists. Fr. Montes said that help coming to the refugees from Christians, through organizations like Aid to the Church in Need, is essential to their repatriation.

Since 2014, ACN has been providing food and housing for displaced Christian families. “With outside aid coming in, Christians have the courage to begin again and return to their lives. But the aid has to come now or Iraq will be without Christians, ” he stressed “The Church in Iraq is going through a crucial moment and helping them is everyone's duty. Imagine how shameful it would be for future generations if it were to be said that Christians had to abandon the Middle East because no one came to their aid,” Fr. Montes concluded.

This article was originally published by ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.